New minister for loneliness announced by PM

New minister for loneliness announced by PM

Prime minister Theresa May has appointed the first minister for loneliness, bringing to fruition a project begun by the late Jo Cox.

Tracey Crouch MP will be formally appointed today (January 17th) and is tasked with taking on what she described as a generational challenge that affects as many as nine million people in the UK.

Ms Crouch will work across political parties and within communities, with the government saying it aims to continue to develop a wider strategy on the issue by gathering further research on loneliness and funding connectivity projects.

A Commission on Loneliness was first set up by Ms Cox, but she was killed in 2016 before she had the chance to fulfil her ambition of seeing it put into action.

Mrs May praised Ms Cox's legacy of bringing to the fore the extent of loneliness in modern society, saying she had dedicated herself to raising awareness of this "sad reality".

"I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones - people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with," the prime minister added.

It comes after NHS England's chief nursing officer Professor Jane Cummings warned late last year that loneliness could be lethal in the cold months of winter and urged the public to check on their elderly neighbours to provide "simple acts of companionship" that could really make a difference if they cannot get outside.

Figures from Age UK show that around half of over-75s live alone and one million older people always or often feel lonely. Two-fifths reported that the television was their main company, with six per cent leaving their house once a week or less.

Some 17 per cent also said they have contact with family, friends or neighbours less than once a week and 11 per cent revealed they can go a month without this vital contact.

This is an escalating problem, with many people of working age struggling to find the time to visit older relatives outside office hours when they are also likely to be juggling childcare.

However, the known effects of loneliness can be disastrous. It increases the risk of early mortality by 26 per cent (making it worse than obesity or a sedentary lifestyle) and is as bad for the body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

People reporting loneliness are also twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who do not experience it.

If you know someone experiencing loneliness, there are many things you can do to help. One suggestion is to enrol them in a local befriending service, which means you will be reassured someone is calling by when you are unable to do so.

There are also many clubs and societies specifically for the over-65s, including lunch groups and even those focused around gentle exercise, while care homes are another good environment for those who may lack the physical ability to join in activities elsewhere.